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Targets of Westminster City Council recall campaign accuse opponents of misleading tactics

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Westminster Mayor Tri Ta at City Hall.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

The fighting continues.

Addressing supporters of a recall campaign, Westminster Mayor Tri Ta called on his opponents this week to “play fair” and denounced what he sees as “bait and switch” tactics used to gather signatures to remove him from office.

Ta was joined by Councilman Chi Charlie Nguyen, who is also targeted by the recall, and their attorney Van Tran at a Wednesday news conference in Orange County’s Little Saigon to attack what they said were misleading recall efforts.

It is only the latest example of increasingly bitter infighting among council members that has involved charges of nepotism, dictatorial rule and legal threats. All five officials are targets of recall campaigns.

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Four of the five council members are Vietnamese Americans, in a city of 98,000 that is of more than 50% Vietnamese ancestry.

“It is sad to see what’s going on in our community right now,” Tran said at the news conference, adding that the “desperate power play by a few disgruntled opponents” cause shame and concern among his clients who respect citizens’ “rights to launch a recall.”

They said they are mostly concerned that some residents are being coerced into signing the recall petition. They showed a videotape of a signature collector standing outside a local Walmart with a sign pushing for rent control in a region suffering from an affordable housing crisis.

But when people appear and agree to endorse the cause, the signature collector flips his clipboard over and asks them to sign the recall petition. Resident Joseph Ngo, who filmed the scene, said he witnessed another resident who was “tricked into signing” the back, but changed her mind and had trouble convincing the collector to remove her name.

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Jacqueline Le, another Westminster resident, said the signature collector she encountered was misleading in his approach.

“They try to be very convincing because they have a very big sign about rent control,” she added, noting that people “are asked to sign so the collector can get their money.”

Le did not sign the petition, she said, with people learning through social media that some collectors are getting paid $10 per hour for their work. Supporters of Tran and Nguyen took to the airwaves this week, going on Vietnamese-language radio and television to ask residents to resist such tactics that they denounced as fraudulent.

Members of the citizens group Westminster United are trying to unseat the council majority of Ta, Nguyen and Vice Mayor Kimberly Ho. They are getting “in-kind” help with a flier and robocalls from a second group funded by Vietnamese billionaire Kieu Hoang, who lives in Los Angeles County and who has “paid circulators collecting signatures,” organizer David Johnson said.

Nguyen said recall proponents who do not live in Westminster have “no business” in the city, adding that council supporters get calls daily from witnesses who report questionable tactics. He encouraged people getting campaign mailers to carefully review all of them, asking themselves “where is the evidence” of wrongdoing by him or his allies.

“Anyone can say anything,” he said. “This is a free country, but do they have proof?”

A third group is working, anonymously, to recall the same council majority, Johnson said. His coalition has no knowledge of the man who is seen on the video collecting signatures at the Walmart store at Beach Boulevard and Trask Avenue, he said.

“He’s not us, he’s not from Westminster,” Johnson said. “We didn’t even train him.”

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He said his group has collected more than 3,000 signatures for the recall petition.

For a recall to appear on the primary election ballot in March 2020, supporters need to collect signatures from 20% of Westminster’s registered voters — a total of 8,736 people.

“Doing a recall is always against the odds,” Johnson said. “But we have a lot of momentum.”


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